The debate has raged on for days and days about what, if any, punishment Pennsylvania State University should receive for the abominable actions of some of its leaders over the last several years covering up the heinous acts of Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator of the football team under legendary (although now for a whole new set of reasons) coach Joe Paterno. Sandusky, of course, has been convicted of dozens of acts of child molestation that several key members of the University’s leadership knew about and chose to either not report or follow up on. The result was over a decade of sanctioned child abuse and probably the worst known case of “enabling” that has ever been documented.
Obviously, the punishment for Jerry Sandusky will be decided when he is sentenced for the convictions later this year. It is all but a certainty that he will spend the rest of his life in prison, and many believe that prison culture may make that lifespan not as long as one might think. But the NCAA had the undesirable position of having to determine how to punish the university on the academic and athletic levels, which has launched plenty of controversy.
The battle lines were drawn pretty clearly. Some felt the NCAA should levy the heaviest punishment at its disposal, the so-called “death penalty” which would shut down the legendary football program completely. Others argued that while some sort of sanctions were appropriate, the death penalty would only cause unnecessary suffering to players, new coaches, and new university staff that had no involvement whatsoever in the acts of the former regime. The debate went on endlessly on sports show and Internet forums, but today, the NCAA opted to fall somewhere in between, but still sending a damning message to Penn State and the rest of the college football world in the aftermath of what is surely the biggest scandal to ever rock the sport.
Penn State was spared the death penalty, but many argue that the actual punishments enacted amount to something worse. The school is ineligible for post-season play, including bowl games, for the next four years. This means that regardless of their record, they would not be allowed to participate in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game or the National Championship game. Furthermore, they would not be able to participate in any bowl game after the regular season. Bowl games are huge cash cows in college football, not to mention a reward to teams that perform well during the regular season. The four year ban is not unprecedented, but it does mean that any player entering the university now would have no chance of playing in a bowl game in their college athletic career. The NCAA also severely limited scholarships that the football team can offer, and the entire institution is under a 5-year probation. If that wasn’t enough, the NCAA also hit them with a $60 million fine that will be used to start a fund for child abuse victims. This number represents a rough estimate of how much the Penn State program pulls in each year.
What was unprecedented is the vacation of wins during Coach Joe Paterno’s tenure, dating all the way back to the first incident Sandusky is known to have been involved in, 1998. This resulted in Paterno and Penn State losing credit for over 100 wins and took the legendary coach from being the all-time leading coach in wins to twelfth. Bobby Bowden now officially reigns as the coach with the most wins in major college football, a coveted title that led both Bowden and Paterno to probably coach years beyond their natural day in the sun.
While the vacating of Paterno’s wins will go down as the biggest news of this punishment announcement, it’s the players that are the biggest losers. Think about it. Penn State was an upper-tier football program; people coming in to play here had professional ambitions and the thoughts of competing for at least a conference, if not national, championship. Bowl games are synonymous with the Penn State name. What often goes overlooked is the scholarship reductions. This may seem like a punishment for the school initially, but think about someone out there actually not getting a free college education because Penn State is not allowed more scholarship offerings. That’s kind of the sickening part of it. Yes, it’s true that any big-time recruit will get a scholarship somewhere, but down the line, someone actually loses the opportunity to attend college and participate in football because of this. Ultimately, ten less people per year, somewhere, will get scholarships because of the NCAA’s mandate and the senseless actions of the institution.
At the end of the day, the NCAA certainly sent a resounding message that football cultures cannot become so all-powerful that they overshadow rules of law, academics, and simple ethics and morality, things that most of us don’t have to be taught or forced to observe. I think most of us know that if you see someone raping a child in the locker room, something needs to be done, and sooner rather than later. Now, with Joe Paterno passing away just in the nick of time, he will never know of what happened to his legacy after his death.
Joe Paterno died with his record intact. He also died a liar, continuing to insist that he did all that was asked of him by the law and the university. Nothing the NCAA or a judge sentencing Sandusky can do will make much difference when all is said and done. All acts of child sexual abuse are, of course, unnecessary, but in a case like this, where so many people collaborated to enable them to keep happening for years and multiple victims, the footprint of Sandusky’s crimes will affect so many people for years to come. And not just his direct victims. Every player at Penn State that just lost their right to play for championships and bowl games is a Sandusky victim as well. Every fan that just lost the pride of wearing their Penn State or Paterno T-shirt is a victim. And somewhere down the line, people will lose jobs as the economic engine of this town and campus falls into irrelevance.
Is it enough? I guess it’ll have to be.